A Christmas Carol

 

 

Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

scrooge and cratchetts

A nightgown clad Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Present watch the Cratchetts enjoying their meagre Christmas dinner, limited by the wages Scrooge pays Bob

A Christmas Carol

Mint Theatre Society

Stonnall Village Hall

****

Charles Dickens' Christmas classic is a challenge for any company to stage. On the face of it, it is a simple, if ingenious, ghost story, but ghosts, and the associated flashbacks, are where the problem lies.

Professional companies these days employ magicians and state of the art special effects to make ghosts appear and vanish like . . . well ghosts, creating an eerie tale of the supernatural, with shocks and shudders from beyond the grave - way beyond the resources of even the wealthiest of amateur companies.

So Mint, heading into its second year, wisely avoided that route, embracing instead Neil Bartlett’s version from 2002-03 which distils Dickens' Victorian ghost story down to its bare essentials – the moral awakening of a “squeezing, wrenching, scraping, grasping kind of a Scrooge; a clutching, covetous old sinner” who is given a second chance, a belated choice between damnation or salvation.

This is a production that depends upon storytelling and imagination rather than effects and concentrates on Scrooge, who is the essential element, the man who has eschewed generosity, compassion, even love, indeed just about any human emotion, in the pursuit of money – which was seen to have echoes in modern society in Bartlett’s original production at The Lyric in Hammersmith where he was artistic director.

Stan Hubbard gives us a suitably gruff, grumpy, thoroughly dislikeable, old curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge, someone who delights, if that is a word he allows in his in his lexicon, in making everyone’s life a complete misery.

The original had a cast of six, Mint expand that to 15 to cover the 46 parts with Alex Howell a remarkably charitable Bob Cratchett, Scrooge's clerk, much more so than his wife, played by Beth Howell, who is quite vitriolic about her husband’s employer.

two scrooges

Oliver Connolly as the young Ebenezer with Stan Hubbard as Scrooge

Then there is the genial Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, played by Jon Holmes, always ready to extend the hand of family friendship to his miserable old uncle.

There is humour too, particularly when David Stonehouse as  a cackling old woman and Ian Toulouse as an equally cackling Mrs Dilber arrive at Old Joe’s grubby second-hand shop to sell items they have stolen from the dead Scrooge.

They could have stepped straight out of Monty Python's Life of Brian, with Toulouse showing a recovery of Lazarus proportions having first appeared as the dead as a doornail, chain festooned Jacob Marley, gasping his way through the world beyond.

Stonehouse has the slightly less arduous part, if only by not having to lug chains about, as the Ghost of Christmas Past sprinkling nostalgia around Scrooge like snowflakes.

Old Joe is played by David Daly who is also the very jolly Ghost of Christmas Present – with his 2016 brothers – come on, work it out! Christmas present . . . 2017 . . .

Which leaves us with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, played in stony and haughty silence by Charlotte Ball, looking rather like an advert for a rather miserable department of Scottish Widows.

With each Christmas come the vignettes such as the young Ebenezer, played by Oliver Connolly, who also weighs in as a splendid Tiny Tim, who is left alone at Christmas.

Then there is Belle Fezziwig, played by Beth Howell again, Scrooge's one true love, who leaves him when she realises his love of money is greater than his love for her.

charlotte

Charlotte Ball who manages a caroller, Miss Fezziwig, Bob's daughter Martha and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

We see Christmas parties with his old boss Mr Fezziwig, David Daly again, and Ella Ball as the apprentice Scrooge; the happiness of the Cratchett’s, with a goose the size of a budgie and pudding too small to hold a plum, yet celebrating Christmas with delight.

There’s Fred with his wife, played by Michelle Black, who also plays Scrooge’s sister, toasting their absent uncle at Christmas lunch.

What the future holds is bleak. A dead Tiny Tim, a rich Scrooge who dies friendless and unloved, discovering you can’t take it with you, and throughout, like stitching on a hem, holding everything together, are carols, sung often quietly a capella, and sometimes transposed to a minor key or played by musician Kevin Boyd.

Bartlett, who uses just the words of the novel, has cut the book down to its essentials, down to its frozen heart of despair before the final revelation and conversion of Scrooge back to the human race, and director Liz Daly, who also gives us bells and a young girl from the sidelines, has pared the set down to a minimum in similar fashion.

Just a few chairs and a box that is desk, table, bed or bench make up the set along with a door and a tombstone, and there is also clever use of the space with cast at times coming down the aisle, or appearing from doors at the side of the stage, with the area stage apron becoming an extension.

Daly's bells from the sidelines and repetitive chanting from the cast members adds both pace and a sense of passage of time in an intelligent and interesting way in what is an entertaining production with much to commend it, including some splendid costumes giving an air of authenticity to proceedings.

This is a performance that relies on the story telling and acting ability of the cast and they do not disappoint although, after an excellent first act, the performance did lose some momentum after the break as the worried and somewhat verbose Scrooge saw his fate being revealed, but there is plenty of time to pick up the pace and get back on track for the next performances at Aldridge Social Club on 1-2 December.

Roger Clarke

25-11-17

Mint Theatre Society 07715578923

Ticketsthemint@hotmail.com   

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